The State College Spikes aimed to apply pressure on the basepaths early against Tri-City on Monday.
Spikes outfielder Mike Pritchard provided the spark after drawing a one-out walk. Pritchard stole second base with two outs, then bolted for third and slid in safely under a high throw by ValleyCats catcher Anthony Hermelyn.
Pritchard scored on a single into right field to tie the game in the bottom of the first inning, and the Spikes scored in each of the next three innings en route to a 7-2 win over the ValleyCats at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
Pritchard scored two runs and showed aggression on the basepaths with three streals, part of the Spikes’ strategy this season.
“We will run, push the envelope all the time,” Spikes manager Johnny Rodriguez said. “ … We’re going to do everything. We’re going to do everything it takes running those bases and running around like a bunch of rabbits.”
State College (11-12) finished with 13 hits in the victory and avoided a sweep by Tri-City. Leobaldo Pina paced the Spikes with four hits, and Casey Grayson went 2 for 3 with two walks to extend his on-base streak to 22 games and his hitting streak to 13 games.
State College reliever Pedro Echemendia pitched two scoreless innings to earn the win. Spikes starting pitcher Carson Cross allowed one unearned run on three hits in four innings.
Tri-City (12-12) got on the board in the first inning after Bryan Muniz reached second base on a throwing error by Spikes third baseman Cole Lankford and scored on Dexture McCall’s single up the middle.
Pritchard helped the Spikes even the score 1-1 in the bottom of the first.
After drawing a walk, he stole second base with two outs and Grayson at the plate. Grayson walked, and Pritchard took third on a 1-1 pitch to Pina. Pina then singled to right field to drive in Pritchard for the Spikes’ first run.
It started with aggressive baserunning.
“I think that in professional baseball, a lot of managers kind of hold off on hit-and-runs and stealing bags,” said Pritchard, who now has six steals. “And really the last week or so, Johnny’s kind of opened it up for us to start making moves on the bases. I think it’s helped our offense a lot.”
Grayson extended his on-base steak with the first-inning walk before keeping his hitting streak alive when he lined a single over Tri-City second baseman Brooks Marlow in the third inning.
“I thought I was honestly going to line out,” Grayson said, “but it kind of knuckled on him a little bit I think and he kind of didn’t know which way it was going, so it kept the hit streak going.
“It was nice to get the walk my first (at bat) to get the on-base streak, which everybody seems to be making a bigger deal out of than the hit streak.”
Grayson now leads the New York-Penn League with a .405 batting average.
“It’s been fun being able to put some good swings on balls,” Grayson said. “That’s really all I care about. I could go 0-fer tomorrow, still be happy, still be good with the season the way it’s going so far.”
The Spikes took the lead in the second inning on an RBI triple by Thomas Spitz and went ahead 3-1 on an RBI single by Pritchard.
State College added two more runs in the third when Grayson scored on a wild pitch and Cole Lankford recorded an RBI single.
Pritchard scored in the fourth to push the Spikes’ lead to 6-1.
He reached on a fielder’s choice and stole second base, sliding to the outside of the bag to get around the tag.
“I kind of have a different technique when I’m stealing a base because I’m not the fastest guy,” Pritchard said. “But I think my slides really help me find more ways to get on.”
Pritchard moved to third on Danny Martin’s single and later scored on a groundout by Pina.
Rodriguez has said the Spikes need to manufacture runs with their speed. State College can’t rely on power to generate big innings.
The Spikes have just seven home runs this season, including a team-high two by Harrison Bader before he was promoted to Peoria and an inside-the-park homer by Martin.
“With the physical character of this team, it’s run, run, run, run,” Rodriguez said. “And we’re gonna run and we’re gonna run more and we’re gonna run more.”
Notes: State College’s Brian O’Keefe left Monday’s game after getting hit by a pitch above his left ankle with the bases loaded in the sixth inning, driving in the Spikes’ final run. “He’ll be fine,” Rodriguez said. “If we had to play tomorrow, he would play tomorrow.” … The Spikes have off Tuesday and start a three-game series at West Virginia at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday. State College returns home Saturday for a three-game series against Batavia.